Yalbac
 

The VOPA research area is located in central Belize north of the capital Belmopan. Modern settlement includes the Valley of Peace village, home to milpa farmers, and extensive Mennonite agricultural fields. The VOPA project started in 1997 with the goal of determining regional settlement and chronology. While only a small part of the over 200 sq. km research areas has been surveyed, it is clear that it has some unique aspects, such as the over 20 pools of the Cara Blanca. We also mapped the minor river center of Saturday Creek near Banana Bank, at which the 2001 field season will focus (New Mexico State University field school, volunteer opportunities). We will focus our efforts on collecting evidence on the history of ritual activities before, during and after the appearance of Maya rulers (c. 400 B.C. to A.D. 950) to evaluate how early leaders used traditional rituals to acquire political power. Since 2010 we have also been working at the 25 pools of Cara Blanca where the Maya both lived and made pilgrimages.



Click on years to access info on field seasons and report
field seasons 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 Default
   

1997 Report

The Valley of Peace Archaeology (VOPA) project area in central Belize had never been explored extensively until 1997 (June 1-July 10) when we began our survey project at the behest of the Belize Institute of Archaeology (IA), National Institute of Culture and History (NICH). To date, the only previous archaeological research carried out in the proposed research area was a salvage operation conducted by the Belize Department of Archaeology in 1982 at the founding of the Valley of Peace village, where ceramics indicate occupation from the Early Classic through Terminal Classic periods.

We based our a survey strategy on a predictive settlement model developed by Scott Fedick; he evaluated agricultural potential using soil type, root zone, susceptibility to erosion, workability, drainage, and inherent fertility. Each cluster was assigned a Capability Class (I-V), with Class I having the fewest limitations and Class V the most. We found a dispersed settlement pattern located away from rivers, and more dense settlement along rivers. Analysis of surface ceramics indicate at least Middle Preclassic to Late Classic occupation.

The 1997 staff consisted of the PI, Lisa J. Lucero, California State-Northridge graduate student Andrew Kinkella, and Field Assistant Zedikiah Scott of the Valley of Peace village. In addition, Dr. James L. Wakeman (Surveying Department, New Mexico State University) and professional surveyor Lonnie Mehlin joined the project for ten days, June 11-June 21 to help with mapping.

Funding for 1997 was provided by a New Mexico State University (NMSU) Research Minigrant, a NMSU Summer Salary Research Grant, and a donation by Mr. Robert Vitolo.

 

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1998 Report

The major goals of the 1998 field season (May 23-July 7) were four, three of which focused in the Cara Blanca area: 1) survey for pools, caves and nearby settlement; 2) test excavate a presumed ceremonial structure at the edge of a pool; 3) explore a pool for offerings; and 4) map the minor center of Saturday Creek.

The 1998 staff consisted of the PI, Lisa J. Lucero, California State-Northridge graduate student Andrew Kinkella, George Washington University graduate student Jason Shields, New Mexico State University undergraduate Anna Osterholtz, New Mexico State University emeritus professor of electrical engineering, Lonnie Ludeman, and Field Assistants Zedikiah Scott and Cleofo Choc of the Valley of Peace village.

Funding for 1998 was provided by a NMSU International Program grant and donations by David Brennan and Robert Vitolo.

 

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1999 Report

The major goal of the 1999 field season (May 11-July 1) consisted of collecting chronological data from the river center of Saturday Creek through a test-pitting program. In addition, a brief return trip was made to Cara Blanca, Pool 1 to collect additional chronological data. We also continued mapping Saturday Creek.

The 1999 VOPA crew consisted of Lisa J. Lucero (PI), Andrew Kinkella (California State-Northridge graduate student), New Mexico State University graduate student Jane Arie, and Field Assistants from the Valley of Peace, Cleofo Choc and Zedikiah Scott. For two days, Dr. William Poe, professor of archaeology, history department, Sonoma State University and Dr. Susan Hayes, professor of agricultural economics, economics department, Sonoma State University assisted us with their GPS experience and equipment at Saturday Creek. Jane Arie and Dr. James Arie helped us measure vertical heights at Saturday Creek and Yalbac.

Funding was provided by a donation by Robert Vitolo and PI funds.

 

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2000

No field season

 

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2001 Report

In 2001, we conducted extensive excavations at Saturday Creek (January 19-May 5) with a focus on revealing ritual behavior through time (burials, dedicatory caches, and termination deposits). We excavated two small residences, a structure from an elite compound, and trenched a temple ball court. We also generated a preliminary map of the core area of Yalbac, surveyed its immediate vicinity to evaluate hinterland settlement, and excavated two test units in Plazas 2 and 3 for chronological purposes.

The long-term goals were to assess how replicating and expanding domestic rituals have provided a means for emerging Maya leaders to integrate people and acquire political power, defined as the ability to exact goods and services from subjects. This process was gradual and incremental, and began with family-level rites.

Emerging Maya leaders expanded rituals into larger communal ceremonies that drew seasonal labor from dispersed farmsteads to civic-ceremonial centers. They conducted rites in progressively larger scale settings (e.g., houses to shrines to temples) incorporating growing numbers of people.

A story on ancient Maya commoner materialized cosmology.

The 2001 VOPA crew consisted of Lisa J. Lucero (PI); Field Supervisors Andrew Kinkella and Natalie Smith (Cal State Northridge) and Jennifer Kirker (Pennsylvania State University); ceramic specialists James Conlon (University College London) and Jennifer Ehret (University of Pennsylvania). Jane Arie also came for a bit to help out, which was appreciated. The crew also included New Mexico State University field school students: graduate students David Brown, Sean Graebner, Julie Jeakle, and Gaea McGahee; undergraduate students Joseph Bergstrom, Nick Chamberlain, Yvette Coral, Sarah Field, Patrick Graham, Charles (Sonny) Hartley, Elizabeth Pugh, and Gabriela Sanchez. Finally, VOPA crew included Field Assistants from the Valley of Peace Village; Cleofo Choc, Zedikiah Scott, Stanley Choc, Juan Antonio Lopes, Vicente Cal, Besi Alvarez (Rodriguez), Isabel Ascencio (Don Luna), Joel Portillo, Jeremias Portillo, Rene Penido, Rafilo Sansores, Julio Rodriguez, and Rafeal Magana.

Funding was provided by a National Science Foundation grant (BCS #0004410).

 

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2002 Report

The long-term goals of the VOPA project at Yalbac are to explore the life histories of Maya temples. In 2002, we excavated two small residences on the outskirts of Yalbac, profiled two looters trenches, continued mapping core features, conducted survey north of Yalbac to the Cara Blanca pools, recorded three more looters trenches (for a total of 29), and began excavating a trench in the site's only ballcourt. In addition, NMSU graduate student Hollie Jo Fuhrmann conducted a study of the effects of biomedicine on traditional midwifery in the Valley of Peace Village.

The VOPA crew consisted of Lisa J. Lucero (PI); Field Supervisors Sean M. Graebner (NMSU) and Andrew Kinkella (UC-Riverside). The crew also included New Mexico State University field school students: NMSU graduate students Amanda Martinez, John Hunter, and Marcos Guerrero; Arizona State University graduate student Karl Seitz; Chair and assistant professor, Department of Anthropology, University of San Carlos, Cebu, Philippines, Jose Eleazar R. Bersales; NMSU undergraduate students Gabriel Silva, Rachel Saurman, and Andrea Streeper. Finally, VOPA crew included Field Assistants from the Valley of Peace Village; Cleofo Choc, Zedekiah Scott, Juan Antonio Lopes, Isabel Ascencio (Don Luna), Rene Penido, Jose Ernesto Vasquez, and Rafeal Magana. Jane Baldwin and Scott Baldwin ran the ballcourt excavations.

Funding was provided by a NMSU Research Minigrant, the Department of Sociology and Anthropology research fund, a donation by Robert Vitolo, and PI funds.

 

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2003 Report

In 2003 (June 11-27) we focused our efforts at the royal acropolis at Yalbac, continued excavations at the ball court alley, and continued survey between Yalbac and the Cara Blanca Pools. The 2003 VOPA crew consisted of Lisa J. Lucero (PI); Field Director Andrew Kinkella (UC-Riverside), and NMSU graduate student John Hooper. The crew also included three Field Assistants from the Valley of Peace Village: Cleofo Choc, Zedekiah Scott, and Jose Ernesto Vasquez. Hollie Fuhrmann also continued her M.A. research in the Valley of Peace Village on the impact of biomedicine on traditional midwifery.

Funding was provided by a donation by Robert Vitolo and PI funds.

 

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2004 Report

For the 2004 season (May 17-June 25), we focused our efforts at Yalbac on profiling temple looters' trenches, continuing the ballcourt alley test trench, and continuing mapping the transect between Yalbac and the Cara Blanca pools. We also cleared Yalbac Plazas 1, 2, and 3 to search for stelae, and put in a test excavation in the center of Plaza 1.

The 2004 VOPA crew consisted of myself (PI), Field Director Andrew Kinkella (UC-Riverside), and NMSU field school students Sandra Andrade, Joanne Baron (U Pennsylvania), Ivy Luchetti, Adam Lujan, and Charles (Chad) Norred. The VOPA crew also included Field Assistants from the Valley of Peace Village: Cleofo Choc, Zedekiah Scott, Isabel Ascencio (Don Luna), and Jose Ernesto Vasquez. One Field Assistant, Henry de Paz, was from Buena Vista village. Nadine Gray helped with ceramic analysis, which was greatly appreciated.

Funding was provided by a donation by Robert Vitolo, field school fees, and PI funds.

 

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2005 Report

For the 2005 season (May 17-June 24), our goals were to: 1) continue cleaning and profiling looters' trenches (LT) at and near the site core of Yalbac; 2) continue excavating the test pit in Plaza 1; 3) continue searching for stelae; 4) continue surveying the transect between Yalbac and the Cara Blanca pools; and 5) explore the relationship between Str. 2A, the largest temple at Yalbac, and Str. 2B. We also conducted various small projects throughout Yalbac.

The 2005 VOPA staff consisted of Lisa J. Lucero (PI), Andrew Kinkella (Field Director, UC-Riverside), and Joanne Baron (Field Supervisor, University of Pennsylvania). Crew included NMSU field school students Monica Corpuz, Kyle Cyran, Doris Herrera, Nancy Komulainen, Rachel Leechin, Debbie Maldonado, and Michele Montoya. The VOPA crew also included Field Assistants from the Valley of Peace Village: Cleofo Choc, Zedekiah Scott, Isabel Ascencio (Don Luna), and Jose Ernesto Vasquez.

Funding was provided by field school fees and a NMSU Presidential Allotment grant.

 

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2006

No field season

 

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2007 Report

For the 2007 VOPA season (May 17-June 24), our efforts continued at Yalbac, specifically: 1) continued excavating the Plaza 1 test pit; 2) continued searching for stelae using posthole tests; 3) collected detailed information from temple looters' trenches (mortar, fill, type of stone); and 4) surveyed the area between Yalbac and the Cara Blanca pools.

A story on the results.
The 2007 VOPA staff consisted of Lisa J. Lucero (PI), Andrew Kinkella (Field Director, UC-Riverside), and Fabiola Eden Silva (McNair Scholar, New Mexico State University). The VOPA crew also included excavation assistants from the Valley of Peace Village: Cleofo Choc, Isabel Ascencio (Don Luna), Jose Ernesto Vasquez, and Mr. Scott.

Funding was provided by a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Research Board grant and the McNair Program at New Mexico State University.

 

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2008 Report

The major goals of the 2008 VOPA project consisted of exploring non-temple ritual activities at Yalbac and to finish collecting settlement data from the Cara Blanca area. We focused our efforts at: 1) the 2 x 2 m test pit on the platform of Temple 2F; 2) Str. 3C (7 x 3 m, 1 m tall); and 3) two 2 x 2 m units near Temple 2A. For Cara Blanca, we measured the dimensions and depths of several of the pools to collect necessary data to plan an underwater diving expedition in 2010 that will be organized by Dr. Patricia Beddows, one of the top freshwater divers in the world. Patricia Beddows and Edward Mallon spent one day visiting the pools we plan to dive in 2010; Andrew Kinkella spear-headed collecting information on the pools, as well as collected the final settlement data for his dissertation.

The 2008 staff consisted of Lisa J. Lucero (PI) and two University of Illinois graduate TAs: Melissa Baltus and Sarah Otten. Andrew Kinkella joined the project for a brief spell to help out, which was greatly appreciated. Project members included field school students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Cassidy Britton, Andrew Crawford, Peter Diebold, Becky Gates, Molly Haneberg, Katherine Kramer, Eleonor Olszewski, Sara Schroder, and Susan Wachowski. Finally, we worked with Field Assistants from the Valley of Peace Village: Cleofo Choc, Don Luna, Ernesto Vasquez, Stanley Choc, and Juan Antonio Lópes. Mr. Scott maintained our equipment.

Funding was provided by an Arnold O. Beckman Award and a Center for Latin American and Caribbian Studies research travel grant.

 

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2009

While there was no field season in 2009, Lisa J. Lucero gave a tour of Maya sites in Belize (and Guatemala) to USA Today science writer Dan Vergano. A story on Cara Blanca pools, Sacred Maya Pools of Belize

 

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2010 Report

The VOPA project consisted of a nine-week field program at Cara Blanca and Yalbac (April 25-June 26). For the Cara Blanca program, divers explored eight of the 25 pools. For the Yalbac program, our goal was to continue exploring plaza activities by completing excavations at Str. 3C and testing Plaza 2 and 3 edges and the Plaza 3 platform with the assistance of a six-week University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign field school.
Funding for the diving expedition was provided by a National Geographic Society grant (#8673-09) and an UIUC Arnold O. Beckman Award. Funding for the six-week program at Yalbac was also provided by the Arnold O. Beckman Award, as well as an UIUC Research Board grant.

The 2010 Cara Blanca crew consisted of Lisa J. Lucero (PI) and the dive team, including Dr. Patricia Beddows, a hydrologist and geochemist from Northwestern University; Edward Mallon, who provided topside logistics; Marty O'Farrell, underwater videographer; and cave dive instructors Robbie Schmittner, Kim Davidsson, and Bil Phillips. Andrew Kinkella (Moorpark College) joined the team as the underwater archaeologist. Field Assistants from the Valley of Peace village included Cleofo Choc, Ernesto Vasquez, Stanley Choc, Don Luna (Isabel Ascencio), and Juan Antonio Lópes. Bob Hemm of the Explorers Club of New York City was responsible for documenting the expedition.

A news release from National Geographic (#2 on the top 10 list of most-watched video for 2010).

A USA Today story.

A slide show and various videos

The 2010 Yalbac staff consisted of Lisa J. Lucero (PI) and two Field Supervisors (who participated in the 2008 field school), Molly Haneberg and Eleonor Olszewski. Project members included field school students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Jose Gonzalez, Karl Lutz, Kayla Keller, Steve Lesniewski, Tara McGovern, Christopher Stillwell, Robbyn Travis, and Hannah Woodard.

UIUC PhD student Colleen Lindsay began collecting botanical samples along the 11 km transect mapped by Kinkella for his 2009 dissertation to assess the possibility that the forest we see today is the result of ancient Maya forest management. Field Assistants from the Valley of Peace Village included Cleofo Choc, Don Luna, Ernesto Vasquez, Jose Vasquez, Stanley Choc, Marcos Choc, and Juan Antonio Lópes. Mr. Scott maintained our equipment. Jane Baldwin and James Arie joined us for a few days and were a big help re-mapping Temple 3D.

 

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2011 Report

Lisa J. Lucero visited Belize twice in 2011: in February to assess the damage from the October 24, 2010 Hurricane Richard to the Yalbac properties; and May 5-9 to continue exploring Cara Blanca pools for ancient Maya offerings. We also assessed damage from the April 2011 wildfires.

The 2011 team included Lucero, exploration divers Kim Davidsson, videographer Marty O'Farrell, Chip Petersen and Patrick Widmann, archaeologist Andrew Kinkella, and Field Assistants Cleofo Choc, Jose Ernesto Vasquez, Stanley Choc, Don Luna (Isabel Ascencio), and Juan Antonio Lopes. Unfortunately, Don Luna passed away August 6, 2011. He will be sorely missed, as will his sage advice and smile.

Funding was provided by a National Science Foundation High-Risk Research in Physical Anthropology and Archaeology Grant (#1110005). A New York Times 'Scientist at Work' blog on the dive, 'An Ancient Watery Underworld'.

 

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2012 Report

Sole goal of 3-day dive (May 7-9) in Cara Blanca Pool 1 is to look for offerings. The PI will also move VOPA artifacts from the Institute of Archaeology and Banana Bank (housing only non-diagnostic artifacts from the 2001 season at Saturday Creek) to a 20' container on Yalbac Sawmill property.

The dive team included Marty O'Farrell, who will also serve as videographer, and Chip Petersen.

Funding was provided UIUC Anthropology Department research funds. For more information, see the New York Times 'Scientist at Work' blog

 

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Field Reports